Armstrong pays surprise visit to Italy

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Rossano Veneto

Although he has been busy preparing to win his seventh and last Tour de France, Lance Armstrong made a surprise visit to his Discovery Channel teammates yesterday in Cesenatico, Italy, on the rest day at the Giro d'Italia.

Armstrong and Discovery sports manager Johan Bruyneel flew in late Tuesday afternoon for quick visit to send some good vibes and boost the morale of the team. Armstrong has been training in Girona, telling Pier Bergonzi of La Gazzetta dello Sport that "I've been in Europe to do some training in Girona; back in the States, there is just too much going on for me to concentrate 100 percent on my Tour de France preparation."

Armstrong has been basing his days around training in the morning and watching the Giro d'Italia every afternoon, and had many positive words about his teammate Paolo Savoldelli's Giro performance so far. "Paolo is looking really good; he's an all-around rider with a lot of experience," said Armstrong. "I see him on the Giro podium in Milano. It's too bad he lost some time early on, otherwise he would already have the maglia rosa. We'll see how [Savoldelli] does in the mountains, but I liked what I saw on the Sammommé climb."

Last fall, Armstrong tried hard to bring Ivan Basso to his new Discovery Channel squad, but the talented Italian decided to stay with Bjarne Riis and CSC in the end. Naturally, Armstrong has good things to say about Basso in this year's Giro, saying: "Basso is still the favorite. I have to admit that in the Firenze TT, he amazed me. I knew he had improved in the TT, but he did better than I expected. If he goes as well on the climbs as he did during the last Tour, he will be really difficult to beat. Ivan is really well prepared, but the Giro isn't finished yet. I'm sure Simoni will go on the attack in the mountains. He can still do a lot of damage and so can Cunego, a young rider with enormous talent."

Armstrong also praised current maglia rosa Di Luca and Petacchi to Bergonzi: "I like [Di Luca] a lot as a rider. He could be a big surprise at this Giro. He's saying that he's thinking of next year's Giro, but he's always there now. He has great form, class, style and a really good team. If he improves his time trialling, he could be one of the guys to beat in the Grand Tours in the next few years. I also have to say good things about Petacchi, a great rider and a guy I really like a lot."

After his quick trip to Italy to rally the Discovery troops, Lance Armstrong flies back to Texas later this week until he returns for the Dauphiné Libéré in early June. "I'm heading back to the States and I'll follow the Giro via Internet," said the avowed bike geek and Internet surfer.

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